Meeting Trumpist violence with MORE violence is not the answer

Courtesy of Anthony Crider via Flickr

The threat of political violence has long permeated Trumpist rhetoric, usually in the form of overtly encouraging assault against protesters or remaining complicit amid the frequent brutality of Trump loyalists during counter-protests. Unfortunately, this threat transformed into a new incarnate when former President Donald Trump sided with the violent Jan. 6 insurrectionists and declared the 2020 presidential election illegitimate, using baseless claims of election fraud as an accelerant for the outrage (The Washington Post, 2021). Uttering comments such as, “We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” at his Jan. 6 rally down the street from where the certification was taking place were clear signs of instigation and unprotected speech. Two-fifths of Republicans expressed openness to political violence under certain circumstances (Newsweek, 2021), but it is difficult to determine how liberals will respond should it come to another Trump presidency. Will they respond in a dignified and sophisticated manner or retaliate violently if Trump somehow wins a second, non-consecutive term? It may not take much to inspire the latter because, as evidenced by the insurrection, it does not require many political extremists to incite a violent confrontation.

If Donald Trump reclaims the presidency in 2024, it is likely that the trends of political violence from his first term will accelerate into the perfect occasion for an even bloodier mess. The Trump administration gave federal law enforcement officers license to practically battle peaceful protesters, as evidenced by the events of Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020 when SWAT members, directed by White House officials, physically assaulted protesters and camera crews (NBC News, 2021). On Jan. 6, Trump used his most loyal supporters as a tool to intimidate Congress and his own Vice President. Following both events, high-ranking military officers were concerned that Trump would attempt to use armed forces for unconstitutional purposes (The Washington Post, 2021). Is there any doubt that Trump will use future crises as justification for widespread violence and abuse of power? Absolutely not.

In response to the unnerving events of national upheaval, some liberal progressives and extremists have made keeping Republicans out of power their rallying cry in advance of the 2022 midterms, fueling the fire of hyperpolarization. If their efforts to mobilize do not result in success, which seems to be the most likely scenario given historical trends for a party in power and a newly-gerrymandered House map, what might the liberal reaction to another Trump administration look like? A typical Democratic answer would be that an organized and nonviolent protest is the best counterweight. The advantages of this approach are similar to what was advocated most recently during the Women’s March in 2017; that it can allow people to oppose without dehumanizing, to understand the opponent rather than humiliate them and prevent the resistor from surrendering to hate (Stanford University, 2021).

Some liberals claim that nonviolence is nothing more than passivity and compliance with the establishment (The Atlantic, 2018), but this seems inconsistent with the more widely agreed upon liberal argument that nonviolent resistance can produce promising results without the consequences of violent protests. Not to mention, describing nonviolent resistance as “passive” pays a serious disservice to the dedicated activists who spend years mobilizing and executing movements. Take Stacey Abrams, for example. Her turnout machine in Georgia was the result of countless hours spent organizing and poring over every possible way to re-engage voters disenchanted with Republican suppression. And it worked; Georgia has two Democratic senators and voted Democratic for president for the first time in nearly 30 years. But Stacey Abrams can’t do it alone. We must think about who has the understanding to lead or train such a massive movement alongside her; frankly, in our society, it can come from anyone, be it athletes, entertainers, musicians or religious leaders. At this point, the only thing we can do is hope that someone heeds the call to action and is courageous enough to step up.

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